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Diverse group applies for Vero’s Three Corners Steering Committee

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER | NEWS ANALYSIS (Week of October 8, 2020)

Vero Beach City Council members removed themselves from the city’s Three Corners Steering Committee last month to clear a path for young people and fresh ideas on the working group that will recommend the final plan for redeveloping 37 acres of electric and sewer plant property on the riverfront.

But several of the 15 people who applied were hardly young or fresh. Instead, the opening up of five seats on this important committee provided the opportunity for has-beens like former mayor Dick Winger and longtime planning and zoning committee member Mark Mucher to come in and try to take over a process that does not need a major overhaul.

Hopefully, that did not happen when council members were to nominate their picks this past Tuesday, because the city actually did attract many of the invested volunteers they were seeking – people who grew up in Vero, ventured out to get an education and then returned to build a future in their hometown, or who chose to relocate in Vero to ply their trade or profession.

One strong applicant was Sydney O’Haire, who regularly attends council meetings and steering committee meetings and speaks up about the riverfront project. O’Haire, a client associate with O’Haire Wealth Management Group at Merrill Lynch, is a 2010 St. Edward’s School graduate who earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and a master’s degree from DePaul University, then returned to Vero ready to get involved in the community.

“After living in Chicago for the past four years, I can offer a unique perspective as to what the younger generations are gravitating towards in an effort to bring those that grew up here back home,” O’Haire said.

O’Haire pointed to her studies of fine arts and sustainability, as well as her life-long love of boating on the lagoon as things that set her up to contribute to the decision-making process.

Brooke Steinkamp, a mother of five and a relative newcomer to Vero who moved to the city two years ago, represents a different demographic – Vero’s children.

“Specifically, I feel my experience as a mother to both adult and minor children makes me uniquely qualified to represent the families of Vero beach, and as a former local business owner I am also acquainted with Vero’s delicate local economy,” she said.

Six-year Vero resident and marketing manager Jason Ground applied for the Three Corners Steering Committee, or for two other committees that need volunteers.

“I believe I am an ideal candidate for the committee because I’m a radical pragmatist. I don’t have an agenda beyond my desire to see the area become a hub for economic activity, leisure, culture and community.”

Jeff Stassi, a 58-year-old retiree, moved to Vero full-time in 2019 after three years as a snowbird. He would bring experience as a director of parks and recreation and a stint as an acting city manager, along with project management experience and a master’s of public administration.

Retired pilot Skip Wood, a 14-year Vero resident who served on the city’s Airport Commission for 10 years, also applied for a seat on the steering committee, as did Sheana Firth, a 1999 Vero Beach High School graduate who is putting her psychology degree from Florida State University to use working for the Mental Health Association. Firth said her skills related to “active listening, digesting and ideating solutions to solve complex problems“ would be of value to the committee.

More than half of the people who applied for the committee positions do not live in the city limits and, though most of them are highly qualified, the council historically is pretty careful to make sure that city residents make up the preponderance of the committee members.

If the council were to give a couple of county residents a chance, they had several excellent candidates from which to choose.

A promising choice, to bring in the perspective of a long-time county resident who works in the city limits, was Ben Earman. Theater patrons may find Earman’s name familiar, not because his father Joe was just elected to the Board of County Commissioners, but because he is an accomplished actor and a past “Dancing with Vero’s Stars” contestant.

A graduate of the Indian River Charter High School, Indian River State College and the University of Tampa, Earman now works as Gift Services Administrator with Riverside Theatre and serves on the boards of several cultural and charitable organizations, so he could represent the arts community on the committee, as well as his generation’s perspective.

“I am very active and knowledgeable about our community, where it’s been and where the people would like to see it go,” Earman said. “As a younger, very active member of our community, I would be an excellent addition to this committee.”

Vero native, St. Ed’s graduate and Florida State University alum Chloe Rose Schwartz returned home to use her entrepreneurial spirit to found her own marketing, branding and special events firm. She has been attending meetings and a design charrette on the riverfront project.

“I believe in the unique beauty of our amazing community and see the endless potential for it to thrive. From the moment I stepped into the power plant during the tours, I felt that the possibilities to make this happen were endless,” she said.

Keep Indian River Beautiful Executive Director Daisy Packer was a familiar face to the council, as she’s managed cleanup, beautification and sustainability projects throughout the city and the county for more than five years.

Also in the mix of county residents were three professionals with expertise in design – Georgia Tech-trained civil engineer Blaine Bergstresser, who works on commercial land development for Kimley-Horn; civil engineer and building contractor Joseph Schulke of Schulke Bittle & Stoddard firm; and Christine Pokorney-Sickterman, a University of Florida design school graduate who says “having design professionals who are familiar with the community and its needs is of upmost importance.“

Thirty-one-year-old attorney Tyler Puttick of the Rossway Swan firm offered up his local knowledge and legal expertise to the steering committee. “With the exception of college and law school, I am a lifelong resident of Indian River County. My young age of 31 combined with my experience with commercial real estate in Indian river County and across the state of Florida makes me uniquely qualified to advise the City Council,” Puttick said.

“I have represented developers buying selling and developing commercial real estate as well as representing family interest in doing the same.”

The committee is tasked with taking the best elements of the dozen different plans set forth by architect

Andreas Duany of the DPZ firm and settling on a design for the riverfront that the city council can support and present to voters in a referendum in 2021.